Nightclub stays closed owners vow fight

32nd Street Plaza patrons disruptive, neighbors say

December 31, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

In a split decision that pleased neighbors of a nightclub in the Abell community, a Baltimore circuit judge yesterday upheld a city liquor board decision that keeps the New 32nd Street Plaza closed indefinitely.

Judge Paul Alpert also reversed a liquor board ruling that declared nightclub operators James Scroggins and Rhonda Williams "unfit" to hold a liquor license in Baltimore.

They cannot be forced to transfer the license to another owner or site on the basis of evidence presented in this dispute -- although they are free to do so voluntarily, Alpert ruled in a partial victory for the nightclub management.

For club manager Anthony Faust, the decision is disappointing because it keeps the nightclub dark at the height of the New Year's party season, but the fight to reopen "is not over yet," he said.

Alpert's ruling will be appealed, said Al Nance, the attorney who represented the nightclub management in its challenge of the liquor board's Aug. 23 decision. The three-member board had voted 2-1 for the suspension, which prevented the bar's owners from taking alcoholic beverages onto the premises in the 400 block of E. 32nd St.

Separately, last month, the city's Department of Housing and Community Development closed the club because it lacks an occupancy permit required for a dance hall.

Neighbors have battled to shutter the nightclub, blaming it for violence and noise that occurred when patrons departed into the streets of the Barclay and Abell communities. Several shootings, at least one slaying, and brawls have occurred. At least once, parked cars around the club delayed firefighters trying to pass to reach a fire, said George McDowell, attorney for the liquor board.

Faust said the club distributed fliers and made announcements encouraging patrons to disperse peacefully, and should not be held responsible for revelers' conduct after they move into city streets.

Grenville Whitman, president of Abell Improvement Association, said yesterday that "there has been quiet since the club was closed, and the neighbors can now expect more nights of quiet." They understand that the future may hold a club operating at the site, which has housed nightspots since the 1930s -- without gunplay, he said.

"We're willing to deal with that," he said.

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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